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Southern Cal VS Notre Dame: The Origin Story

Written by Craig James|Contributor|Twitter/X: @CraigJamesIT

Photo by Sports Illustrated


College football is driven by history, traditions and rivalries. Notre Dame is the epitome of history and tradition. Notre Dame versus the University of Sothern California is the best of all three. The matchup is the definition of college football. Two completely different demographics, two universities over 2,000 miles apart who hate each other like two neighbors who live too close. What started as a wife's vacation and a recruiting tool for Notre Dame has turned into one of the biggest college football rivalries.

In 1926 Knute Rockne wanted to spread the Notre Dame brand across the country and give his program the opportunity to find players in California to recruit to Notre Dame. Legend has it Rockne's wife, Bonnie, thought it would be nice to have a vacation every year to California so she persuaded him to play there every other year. She thought it would be nice for the players to get a vacation from the South Bend winters and give Notre Dame the opportunity to use it to their advantage. Not only did this give her a vacation, this sprung Notre Dame into the national spotlight. The person responsible for persuading Bonnie was Southern California's athletic director Gwynn Wilson's wife Marion. On Thanksgiving day in 1925 Gwynn and Marion made the trip to snowy Lincoln, Nebraska to watch the Notre Dame, Nebraska game and to convince Knute Rockne to play a home and home series between the two programs. Knute did not go for their pitch, but his wife did. As many know, the wife always wins and she won big. Television wasn't even invented until 1927, this cross country trip gave people an opportunity to watch Notre Dame and helped grow the brand nationwide into what it is today.


Photo by SB Nation


In 1956 the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Los Angeles presented the team with a Gaelic War club that was decorated with jewels that were dated back to the original inception of the rivalry, in 1926. This would go on to be named the Jeweled Shillelagh and is still today the trophy the winner of this game gets every year. Whoever won the game that year would etch their name into the club and add a Jewel from that year. After the 1989 season, a new shillelagh was needed because there was no more room for more jewels or names. The newer Shillelagh arrived in 1997 and is much bigger and has every Jewel since the 1990 season on it. The original Shillelagh still to this day resides in South Bend.


This long standing rivalry has given the world some of the most iconic games in the history of college football. In 2005, Southern Cal handed Notre Dame one of the most heart breaking losses in the long history of Notre Dame football. With under 15 seconds left Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart scrambled and tried to dive into the end zone for the win but he was hit short of the goal line and the ball was knocked out of bounds with seven seconds to go. The clock continued to count down, and after it hit zero, the Irish fans began to storm the field. But after huddling, the officials spotted the ball on the one-yard line and put seven seconds back on the clock. The next play, instead of spiking the ball and kicking a field goal to tie and send the game to overtime, the Trojan offense surprised the Irish by running the ball with Leinart. Running back Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into the end zone. At the time this was against the rules but the referees awarded USC the winning touchdown and the rest is history.


Photo by Sports Illustrated


In the 93 meetings between the two universities Notre Dame leads the series 50-38-5. In the 97 years since the start of this rivalry they have only not played each other in 4 seasons. In 1943-1945 World War II halted the sports world so they did not have the opportunity to play and then again in 2020 when the PAC 12 decided to cancel all non conference games due to Covid. This rivalry may not be the oldest but it is one of the most intense rivalries in football. Both teams value this matchup and use it to put their players on an even bigger stage than their normal game week. Notre Dame having won the 7 of the last 10 games in this matchup is looking to play the spoiler this year just as the Trojans have done to the Irish in the past. Southern California is coming into South Bend 6-0 with legitimate National Championship hopes with Caleb Williams running their offense. Last year came with some controversy after quarterback Caleb Williams wrote an expletive directed at Notre Dame on his fingernails. This year the Irish will be looking for revenge from both that and an 11 point loss. The Irish are coming off one of the more disappointing losses looks to ruin the Trojans undefeated season and spoil their Playoff hopes. The hate will be there Saturday and will be a must watch come Saturday night on NBC.


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